Welcome to this week’s round-up of all the action from WWE’s women’s divisions. WrestleMania week is here and it’s nine days long so it will flow into next week’s column as well. It’s a fairly long column, so that’s probably enough preamble. Let’s get into it.
Shayna Baszler & Nia Jax def. Asuka & Rhea Ripley
In a pre-match interview, Ripley said Asuka would have to wait until WrestleMania Sunday to get payback for the table to the face. They had to get along against Jax and Baszler or they’d get ripped apart.
Shayna Baszler & Nia Jax, with Reginald, vs Asuka & Rhea Ripley
Interesting match. Ripley was playing mind games with Asuka on the tags from the outset. She was enjoying the challenge of their opponents, but it was Asuka she was really playing with. Asuka just wanted to win the match.
Ripley got caught with a chop block from Baszler after letting herself get distracted grabbing Reginald by the hair. Nia Jax ran her spine into the apron to make her pay for that. Jax and Baszler’s teamwork is still great. They punished Ripley until she finally managed to get to Asuka, particularly working one leg.
Asuka climbed to the top turnbuckle, but before she could launch herself onto Baszler, Rhea Ripley pushed her to the floor, threw her into the steps, then rolled her into the ring. Shayna Baszler met her with a knee to the face and pinned her. Ripley was still limping while Attacking Asuka, hopefully just selling it. She screamed at Asuka from ringside after the match asking, ‘I’m not ready for what?’ and telling her, ‘This is my division now’.
I’ll admit I’m a little disappointed that Asuka and Rhea Ripley’s WrestleMania battle won’t be a respectful contest, but it should be a great match. Ripley will play whatever role she’s given, and she’ll do it well. In NXT she played the adversarial monster and the locker room leader, and switched between them seamlessly. I see no reason why she couldn’t do the same thing on RAW.
Naomi and Lana interrupted Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler’s interview, closely followed Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke, Natalya and Tamina, Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan, and Billie Kay. Carmella was apparently reviewing her resumé. They’re the teams for the Tag Team Turmoil match on WrestleMania Night 1. The winners face Jax and Baszler on Night 2.
Hall of Fame
Class of 2020 – The Bella Twins
Rhea Ripley and Peyton Royce had red carpet interviews. Ripley talked about the Bella Twins. She watched them growing up and met them at a meet and greet, but only met them properly on Hall of Fame day. Unsurprisingly, she had nothing but good things to say about them.
Of course people were going to say nice things about them, but Kofi Kingston went above and beyond, praising their work ethic and their massive contribution to women’s wrestling within WWE.
Nikki Cross talked about the British Bulldog’s induction. She’s so sweet and genuine. Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler said some nice things about the Bellas as well. Baszler told us her first WWE appearance was on Total Divas when she was training Nikki in some submissions, which Nikki used to win some of her matches.
Mandy Rose, Dana Brooke, Naomi, and Lana also got to say a few words.
The induction package for Nikki and Brie was great. Their speech was a little rehearsed sounding, but they did great. They’ve been away for ages and they’ve both got small children to deal with. They gave a lot of credit to the women who fought alongside them to make women’s wrestling important, and to the men in the locker room who supported them. The thank you list went on and included everyone they could think of. They didn’t say anything about a comeback, except to say it was fate that they had their sons 22 hours apart and we just have to wait 18 years for the next Bella Twins.
Class of 2021 – Molly Holly
Sasha Banks talked about Molly Holly inspiring her and being encouraging to her. Carmella also talked about how inspirational Molly Holly was and the importance of her showing little girls they didn’t have to just have to have one kind of character trait. Bianca Belair got to say a few words about Holly inspiring her.
Big E said some lovely things about Molly Holly as well.
Her induction video package was interesting, and made me realise I need to go back and look at her career again with fresh eyes because I definitely didn’t appreciate her the first time. Her speech was lovely, she focused on the crew and how important they were to her, calling them her people. She even took the time to recite all their names.
Bayley got to talk about Kane in her interview. He was her brother’s favourite wrestler when she was growing up and it seems that’s mainly why she liked him. She did say Team Hell No was fun for her because she enjoys the personalities coming out.
Hall of Fame suffered from the lack of crowd. The sense of occasion watching all the superstars milling around in their finery celebration the people who inspired them, with fans behind to show their appreciation for legends of the business on the biggest week in wrestling’s year, can’t be replicated in the ThunderDome. The fake crowd noise was necessary but felt hollow. The superstars dressed up for red carpet interviews was a nice touch, but it didn’t make enough of a difference.
NXT Takeover Stand and Deliver
Zoey Stark def. Toni Storm
Raquel Gonzalez def. Io Shirai
Shotzi Blackheart & Ember Moon def. Candice LeRae & Indi Hartwell
It took me a while to get round to reviewing NXT TakeOver Stand and Deliver because I spent the whole of WrestleMania week finishing my MSc coursework, but I did eventually review it, and what an awesome two nights of wrestling it was. You can find the full Night 1 review here, and the Night 2 review here. The reviews below are copied and pasted.
Toni Storm vs Zoey Stark – Pre-show match
This was an interesting addition to pad out the pre-show. Mickie James joined Vic Joseph on commentary and later joined the panel to discuss Io Shirai versus Raquel Gonzalez. Excellent bonus match, and nice that it put an extra women’s division match on the card.
Storm and Stark are very well-matched and it was all back and forth. Entertaining and very competitive, a good fun watch, but there’s nothing much else to say about it. Except this. I didn’t know much about Zoey Stark when she arrived. I’ve slacked off on indie wrestling for a couple of years. But I looked at her Cagematch and this was her 40th match to Storm’s 453rd. To say it was a competitive and even match, and that Stark easily hung with Storm, does give a clue as to why NXT are so high on her.
Zoey Stark got the pin with an inside cradle when Toni Storm was going for Storm Zero. That her first win in NXT since her debut against Valentina Feroz.
Io Shirai (C) vs Raquel Gonzalez – NXT Women’s Championship match
Io Shirai chose Gonzalez as her challenger. She explained her reasons on the pre-show, but Gonzalez started the match like she was determined to make Shirai regret that choice.
Dakota Kai accompanied Gonzalez to the ring and got involved early on, attacking Shirai to stop her moonsaulting to the outside onto Gonzalez. Happily, the ref caught her and sent her to the back, where she should have been from the outset. Gonzalez has to do this on her own merit.
Great match, which completely deserved the main event slot. Io Shirai has an answer for every move and the most incredible inventiveness and resilience. Gonzalez answers everything with power, and it’s quite a compelling answer most of the time.
If anyone was going to jump off the big skull on the stage it was going to be Io Shirai, and she did. It looked really high and the metal grating on the stage didn’t look like a fun landing. Raquel Gonzalez had only just stood up after taking the moonsault and double knees that shoved her up the ramp, when she had to catch a flying Shirai. Io Shirai got her back into the ring and landed the moonsault, but couldn’t get the pin.
A boot to the face and a powerbomb at ringside put Gonzalez back in control. She took a long time to get Shirai back in the ring and took a little extra time for trash-talking. For once, it didn’t backfire. A lariat flipped Shirai and put her down. The one-armed powerbomb Gonzalez pinned her with nearly put her through the ring.
Raquel Gonzalez is the NXT Women’s Champion.
There is speculation as to whether Shirai’s time in NXT might be drawing to a close, but I hope she doesn’t go to the main roster brands. Even without the title, which you would assume she’ll want to get back, Shirai’s best potential matches are still in NXT.
Shotzi Blackheart & Ember Moon (C) vs Candice LeRae & Indi Hartwell – NXT Women’s Tag Team Championship match
Ember Moon’s entrance gear was awesome and Blackheart’s tank tracks light up.
Candice LeRae got caught trying to pin Blackheart with her feet on the ropes during a section where Blackheart took a lot of punishment. She got to Ember Moon did a little ‘Suck it’ tribute to Road Dogg who has been ill and we hope is recovering well. We got a huge tower of doom with Moon coming off worst and LeRae needing to take a few moments’ respite on the outside.
Shotzi Blackheart dived through Moon’s legs while Moon stood on the ropes, which is becoming a signature of theirs. This time, she overshot the landing a tad and it looked terrifying. It was one of those where the ref is out of the ring in double quick time to check and ref Aja was there in a heartbeat. She finished the match though, so hopefully, she’s unhurt. She does have that Sasha Banks-esque way of pulling out something in big matches that makes you question her health. Ember Moon took a dive to the outside as a follow up as well, but it still wasn’t enough.
Shotzi Blackheart took a double team and Ember Moon only just got there in time. Moon landed a double Eclipse but Blackheart had tagged her before she launched herself, so Blackheart got the pin with a senton from the top on Hartwell.
Meiko Satomura & Emilia McKenzie def. Kay Lee Ray & Isla Dawn
Piper Niven is still training Jack Starz and she’s very pleased with his progress. Next week he gets to see if everything she’s doing has worked.
Meiko Satomura & Emilia McKenzie vs Kay Lee Rae & Isla Dawn
Millie McKenzie is Emilia McKenzie now, and it’s great to see her back in an NXT UK ring. They still call her suplex Millie when she gets going though. She had to break up a pin on Satomura after Kay Lee Ray got her with the Gory Bomb. Isla Dawn showed her worth as a tag partner as well, helping Ray got to the ropes to break a submission. Good match all round, and an excellent match for Isla Dawn despite getting pinned by McKenzie with a rollup reversal to her fisherman’s suplex attempt. Satomura stood guard to stop Kay Lee Ray breaking that one up.
Aoife Valkyrie came to the stage after the match and laid a feather on the floor as a challenge to Meiko Satomura.
Tamina def. Nia Jax (DQ)
It was announced on Friday that all the social media campaigning worked, Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair will main event WrestleMania Night 1. Kayla Braxton interviewed Belair about the match, but not the announcement because SmackDown was pre-taped. It’s going to be Belair’s first WrestleMania match and she’s nervous. She’s got butterflies but it’s ok to be nervous it means you care. Her dad raised her not to be scared of anything. She has to be mentally tough as well as physically tough because it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. She’s been working so hard, even when no one was watching. Now the world will be watching to see what she can do.
Braxton said that’s a lot of pressure and asked about Sasha Banks, saying Banks has been here before and will do anything to protect her title. Is Belair prepared to do anything to win? Belair said she has all the tools to win and when she does it will be the greatest night of her life.
Sasha Banks also had an interview with Braxton. She said she doesn’t care what Bianca has to say, Bianca and everyone else cares what she has to say. She didn’t have much to say to be honest. She’s the best. At WrestleMania, Belair will give her the best she’s got. She welcomes that and she’ll take it and give it back Boss style. Bianca’s best won’t be good enough.
Nia Jax, with Shayna Baszler and Reginald, vs Tamina, with Natalya
Nia Jax told Tamina she dominated this and Tamina shoved her on her ass. Jax looked more surprised than she should have been. Reginald and Shayna Baszler got involved on separate occasions. Baszler and Tamina ended up playing tug of war with Reginald before Jax barrelled into Tamina. Shayna Baszler got up on the apron and Natalya pulled her down. Baszler flung her into the steps.
It’s a new and improved version of Tamina. She might even have got the pin after giving Jax a Samoan drop. Baszler prevented the pin by invading the ring, so she still got the win. Natalya jumped on Baszler, Tamina joined in, and it was Baszler who backed down. Annoyingly, another three minutes or thereabouts.
Billie Kay and Carmella crashed The Riott Squad’s interview about the tag team turmoil match. They did let Riott talk before tearing down everything she said. They’ve been added to the match. Naomi, Lana, Mandy Rose, and Dana Brooke turned up as well and it broke down into a backstage brawl. Natalya and Tamina were late to the party, but very destructive when they arrived. They were the last two standing.
Becky Lynch has been cryptically teasing a WrestleMania return, but she teased a Royal Rumble return as well so I wouldn’t read too much into it.
WrestleMania Night 1
Carmella & Billie Kay def. Naomi & Lana > The Riott Squad def. Carmella & Billie Kay > The Riott Squad def. Mandy Rose & Dana Brooke > Tamina & Natalya def. The Riott Squad – Tamina & Natalya progress to Night 2
Bianca Belair def. Sasha Banks
It looks like Kayla Braxton will be leading Kickoff shows going forward, after Charly Caruso’s departure from WWE for pastures new, or ESPN to be more precise. She was joined by Booker T, Peter Rosenberg, JBL, and Jerry Lawler.
Sasha Banks versus Bianca Belair is the first one on one women’s match to main event WrestleMania. The panel spent a few minutes discussing the layers of history-making and JBL said it’s not gender or race that should be focused on, they’re main eventing because they’re incredible athletes. I think he was trying to be complementary, but it came out a bit odd, as if there was some suggestion they were main eventing for any other reason.
Vince McMahon made a speech to kick WrestleMania off and welcomed the fans back after 13 months. All the superstars were spread out on the stage with him. It was quite a moment, even if it does feel a bit premature in pandemic terms. He talked about emerging from the pandemic… which is probably still a way off, but the optimism is nice.
WrestleMania started with a rain delay of around half an hour, during which superstars were shoved in front of microphones for interviews so we didn’t just have to watch the rain. Bianca Belair had one, but it was basically a rehash of her SmackDown one. She was excited about the match and it was contagious. She’s very genuine and likeable. Credit where credit is due, they dealt with the delay effortlessly. Ok, it was obviously padding, but the superstars just got on and talked for as long as they were told to talk for.
Bayley showed up backstage talking to Titus and the nWo. She tried to pal up with them, but it went a bit cringeworthy.
Number One Contender’s Tag Team Turmoil
Two teams start. The next team come out when one is eliminated. Pinfalls or submission to eliminate. It’s a gauntlet match with another name.
Naomi & Lana vs Carmella & Billie Kay was good while it lasted. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long at all and annoyingly, Naomi and Lana were eliminated. They both deserve better. Lana has worked her ass off and Naomi is one of the most popular and talented women on the roster, a position she achieved through sheer hard work with little to no push from the company.
Carmella & Billie Kay vs The Riott Squad wasn’t much longer, but was also fun while it lasted. Carmella got told off for cheating and squealed about it. Billie Kay took the double team pin and Carmella didn’t take it too well, superkicking Liv Morgan in the face before Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke got near the ring.
The Riott Squad vs Mandy Rose & Dana Brooke started with Liv Morgan on the floor at ringside. Mandy Rose slipped over on her way to the ring, so I guess the ramp was still wet after the weather delay. She got up and it looked like only her pride was hurt. There’s so much potential in this as a feud and it’s a shame they’re currently on different brands. The Riott Squad are chronically underappreciated, and Brooke and Rose are turning themselves into a great team. It was Morgan who got the pin on Dana Brooke after a good match, although the announcer declared the wrong result initially.
The Riott Squad vs Natalya & Tamina had Natalya and Tamina start in a strong position because Morgan and Riott had been through the wringer already. They fought like it was their only match and they came close several times, but I guess Natalya and Tamina wanted it more. It looked like they waited much too long to pin Ruby Riott, with Natalya considering a Sharpshooter but deciding to let Tamina finish it with a splash instead. Ruby Riott was properly out though and the Superfly Splash landed true and sent Natalya and Tamina through to night two.
Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax were watching backstage and discussing the result. They didn’t seem overly worried.
All the matches were annoyingly brief and, while it’s nice to make sure all the women get a WrestleMania match, it would be even nicer to give them some time. It felt like it could have been a RAW main event rather than a WrestleMania match
Bayley crashed commentary, but only stayed long enough to cut to the Hall of Fame package for the class of 2020. The class of 2021 will be paraded on night two.
Sasha Banks (C) vs Bianca Belair – SmackDown Women’s Championship match
The start of the match was delayed slightly while Bianca Belair had a little cry and Sasha Banks tried really very hard not to. It was a huge moment and taking a few seconds to acknowledge the weight if it is no bad thing. Making history with the fans back for the first time in thirteen months must have felt incredible. They were at the top of their game as soon as they got started.
Belair showed off an incredible feat of strength early on. After taking a suicide dive from Banks she rolled through and kept hold then stood up and pressed Banks over her head. She walked to the ring and up the steps with Banks pressed over her head, and threw her into the ring. There was another feat of strength later on with a delayed vertical suplex that was extremely delayed, bouncing Banks off the ropes as well (also incredible core strength from Banks to hold that position for that long).
Sasha Banks was fond of using Belair’s hair for leverage. Every opportunity she got she had hold of it, using it in moves, or to tie Belair to the ropes, or to stop her getting away. Belair reversed Banks using it to pull her into the ringpost and it was Banks’ shoulder that took the battering. Banks missed with double knees immediately after and crashed into the barricade.
Sasha Banks will go into the Hall of Fame one day as one of the best there ever was. And Bianca Belair is truly special. I’ve watched the speed of her progression from her first NXT match in September 2016 to the main event of WrestleMania and there’s no ceiling for her. I have no idea just how good she can get, but I’m excited to find out.
Banks got her knees up for Belair’s 450 splash, but Belair caught her as she leapt at her and powerbombed her twice. When she went for a third, Banks slammed her face-first into the mat.
Sasha Banks used Belair’s hair as part of a modified Bank Statement before locking in the Bank Statement proper. When Belair got to the ropes, Banks wrapped the braid around them and pulled.
Belair ducked Banks’ double stomp in the tree of woe and sat up for the double knees in the corner, avoiding that as well, but Banks kicked out of her 450 splash. Commentary questioned whether Belair could come back from that, but her expression hardened and she went for the K.O.D. to finish it. Banks hopped down and grabbed Belair’s hair again. For the first time, I fully approve of the hair whip. Banks spent so much time pulling on it she deserved it (it left a hell of a welt on Banks’ side though, and what a noise).
Belair went for the K.O.D. again, Banks reversed and tried for a backstabber but Belair was too strong and powered her onto her shoulders. This time the K.O.D. landed, and Bianca Belair is the new SmackDown Women’s Champion. Michael Cole completely fluffed the call and said Banks kicked out, but Corey Graves was on it. Cole apologised and put it down to excitement, and nothing was going to spoil Belair’s moment. Awesome match.
That’s it for another week of WWE women’s division action. Join me next week for the second night of WrestleMania and a whole lot of fallout, and in the meantime follow @ArnFuriousCom to make sure you never miss a review. You can also follow me @manda_why. Please stay safe.